The February release date of Joel and Ethan Coen’s comedy “Hail, Caesar!” (Universal) could hardly be more appropriate.
That’s because this sendup of golden-age Hollywood represents something of a supersized valentine by the sibling collaborators to the bygone days of Tinseltown, specifically the early 1950s.
Indeed, the film’s rather perfunctory plot is merely an excuse to revel in the industry’s familiar yet far-removed past.
So it hardly matters to the audience when MGM stand-in Capitol Pictures’ major star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped. But it means a great deal to conscientious studio executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who undertakes to retrieve Baird without creating unwanted headlines.
Like his daily roaming of the back lot, during which he’s trailed by his devoted secretary, C.C. Calhoun (Frances McDormand), Eddie’s discreet efforts to resolve Baird’s disappearance introduce us to a parade of recognizable figures.
They include Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a screen cowboy in the mold of Tom Mix; Esther Williams-like swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson); handsome Gene Kelly-style hoofer Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum); Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), a pretentious helmer of drawing-room dramas; and Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton), rival gossip columnists who also happen to be sisters.
Among the stories Eddie strives to keep Thora and Thessaly from uncovering are DeeAnna’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy and Laurence’s closeted proclivities.
An obvious, though unspoken, gay subtext is on full display, however, as Burt and some extras film a musical number that matches the naval costumes of “On the Town” with lyrics paralleling “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” from “South Pacific.” The scene jokingly suggests that there may be an alternative after all.
Besides such exclusively adult fare, the movie’s satiric treatment of religion further restricts its suitable audience. Eddie is shown to be an absurdly scrupulous Catholic who measures the time since his last confession in hours rather than weeks or months.
In assessing such material, mature viewers will need to discern whether, in their judgment, faith itself is being ridiculed or merely the cheapening of sacred beliefs at the hands of crude moviemakers and misguided devotees. For those drawing the former conclusion, of course, “Hail, Caesar!” will qualify as offensive.
The film contains a complex treatment of religious themes, including some irreverent humor, comic references to homosexuality, as well as a couple of uses of profanity and crass language. (L, PG-13)